ITV leadership debate was 'little short of a disaster for the Tory party'

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston gives his insight on what he thought of the heated debate between the five Conservative candidates on Sunday evening

That was quite a debate. I’ve never seen senior Tory ministers and MPs lay into each other so publicly and so openly, so much blue-on-blue arguing. Mr Sunak accused Ms Truss and Ms Mordaunt of being socialists - not a compliment in the Tory lexicon - for being reckless with the public finances.

Ms Truss attacked Mr Sunak for raising taxes to record levels. Ms Badenoch called for unity while attacking more or less everyone for everything. Ms Mordaunt seethed at what she saw as the cheap personal attacks she’s faced in recent days, especially over the trans debate and the definition of being a woman. And Tom Tugendhat attacked everyone else for being tainted as current or recent members of Boris Johnson’s government.

Given that every candidate said they wouldn’t have Mr Johnson in their cabinet, maybe Ms Tugendhat had a point.

But, truthfully, Mr Tugendhat looked like the trailing candidate the first two rounds of the leadership contest have showed him to be. He’s performed eloquently in the contest. But tonight he looked deflated - and presumably he will be ejected from the contest in tomorrow’s heat. Mr Sunak looked the leader in the contest he has been so far, since the lion’s share of the candidates’ criticisms were directed at him, and he replied - or deflected - with some style. I would imagine he’ll consolidate his lead tomorrow. I simply can’t judge how the Brexiter right of the Tory party will rate the relative performances of Ms Mordaunt, Ms Truss and Ms Badenoch.

Host Julie Etchingham with the five candidates.

They all had good and bad moments - though the candidate most forensic in challenging Mr Sunak was Ms Badenoch. If I am right that Mr Sunak is now more-or-less guaranteed to be in the final two - the duo from whom Tory members choose our next PM - then the decision for the anyone-but-Rishi brigade is who’s best placed to stop him. And I am going to break the habit of a lifetime by saying I am not sure who Tory MPs will ultimately say that is. What I do know is this debate - and this contest - is little short of a disaster for the Tory party, because the Labour Party will record and repeat every single attack made by these candidates on each other and on the actions of their government. One of them will win the contest and become the PM. But the Tory party looks set to lose.

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